Silent Pianos

There is much talk in our digital age of silent pianos, and here we mean acoustic instruments with the facility to operate also in a silent mode. The attractions of being able to play without others hearing, and of being able to store one’s performance on a digital platform, can be appreciated by us all.

Schimmel C120 twintone

Generally, the pianos that we deal in are traditionally made. This means that the strings, hammers and soundboard have been manufactured to provide the pianist with a fine variety of acoustic textures. A silent system functions by engaging a hammer shank stopper rail which prevents the hammers from striking the strings. Light sensors, which are located out of sight under the keys, send signals to a control box which recreates synthesised piano sounds that can be heard through headphones, a mobile phone or a PA system.

A silent piano thus has to operate in two quite distinct modes – (1) the normal acoustic piano mode and (2) the silent mode. It needs to be said that the pianist could have two concerns here: the first is simply that in silent mode the instrument is functioning only as a keyboard, and the second concern is about compromise to the piano’s regulation. In most systems the regulation has to be adjusted in order to accommodate the silent mode, effectively meaning the “set-off” is further away from the strings. When playing in acoustic mode the pianist then has less control.

Silent piano detail

We can offer silent systems retrospectively fitted to a piano by our technician. We fitted the Magic Star system to our customer's new Steinway model V upright pictured above. The Professional QuietTime Magic Star version Six provides full Multitrack recording and playback functions (for 2 tracks with 40.000+MIDI-Events), an audio-in and out socket (stereo headphones included), metronome, MIDI-IN, MIDI-OUT and MIDI-THRU and sampled tones out. The control box, which features a touch screen graphics display, is mounted under the key bed to the right-hand side. This system uses optical sensors under the keys for noiseless operation and there is a USB MIDI port for easy connection to your PC or iDevice. We can also fit retrospectively another system from a company near Nuremberg in Germany, Adsilent.

The Schimmel Twin-Tone system is fitted in the factory during manufacture and as such would normally result in a more reliable performance (a Twintone Schimmel 120cm upright piano is pictured at the top of this page). Schimmel, like Yamaha, have patented mechanical modifications to the actions which means that these two silent systems are the only ones that we know of that do not upset the escapement action. We show the two patented systems here:

Yamaha double jack

Schimmel in acoustic mode

Schimmel in silent mode

Yamaha Pianos have modified the jack: they call it the “double jack” and it has two bumps, one of which operates in acoustic mode and the other in silent mode. One could reasonably say, however, that the Schimmel design is more ingenious in its simplicity: the jacks are not altered - instead the rail on which the set-off buttons are mounted is moveable; it simply shifts downwards for silent operation.  

In terms of prices, fitting a retrospective system (which can be done in the customer's home) is likely to cost £1,000 to £2,000. Supplying any Schimmel upright with TwinTone will add about £2,490; any Schimmel grand with TwinTone will add about £7,300. 

Generally, we would advise customers looking for a silent system to invest in the Schimmel factory made pianos with “Twin-Tone” fitted and these would always be special order. There are however a number of issues here and we are always happy to discuss.  

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